NEW YORK -- Keep an eye on the Kansas City Royals in the final hours before the non-waiver trade deadline.
According to multiple sources, the Phillies have had recent communication with the Royals regarding pitcher A.J. Burnett. The Royals have also kept tabs on lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo.
The St. Louis Cardinals were in the market for a starting pitcher and had interest in Cliff Lee before reportedly trading for Cleveland's Justin Masterson on Wednesday.
Lee remains on the market. He is scheduled to pitch Thursday night in Washington -- three hours after the 4 p.m. deadline. As of game time Wednesday afternoon, Lee was still scheduled to make that start.
The Phillies face financial hurdles in trading both pitchers. Burnett is owed about $5 million for the remainder of this season and has an escalating player option for 2015 that will be worth $8.5 million when he makes his next start (his 24th of the season) and can rise to as much as $12.75 million if he makes 32 starts.
Lee is owed about $8.4 million for the remainder of this season and is guaranteed $37.5 million (his 2015 salary and an option buyout) after this season.
The Phillies desperately need an infusion of young talent in their system and have long said they’d be willing to eat some salary to get back promising talent. Potential deals involving Burnett or Lee may come down to how much money the Phillies are willing to eat. The same could be said in relation to outfielder Marlon Byrd. There are a number of teams -- the Mariners, Giants to name a few -- looking for a bat. Byrd is signed for next season at $8 million and has an option for 2016 worth another $8 million. He will want that option picked up to go to Seattle. The Phillies might have to bridge some of that to move him, but they won’t do it unless they like the return package.
Lee’s health and recent effectiveness is yet another hurdle in a possible deal involving the left-hander. He has made just two starts since coming off the disabled list after being down for two months with an elbow strain and has not looked good in either one. He has allowed 21 hits in 10 2/3 innings in those two games and his fastball has not had its usual jump. Could this just be rust after a long layoff or is Lee compromised? That is something potential trade partners have to consider.
If Lee is not dealt before Thursday’s deadline, he is likely to be placed on waivers rather quickly as the Phillies attempt to gain the flexibility to deal him in August. An August waiver deal would allow teams more time to evaluate Lee. Because of his high salary and recent injury, Lee stands a decent chance of getting through waivers.
Burnett’s effectiveness is also a question. He did not pitch well Monday night, allowing eight hits (five for extra bases) and seven runs in five innings. The Royals had a scout at that game. Burnett’s track record over the season has been much better, however. In fact, he pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits, in his previous start against the Giants.